Sitting Thirteen

The Lunch Crunch

Christopher Timmons crossed his fingers and nervously entered the lobby of the Marriott. He was hoping that Shelley would be there to meet him, but she was nowhere in sight. So he made his way into the restaurant.

He despised this part of any luncheon appointment: when you walk into the restaurant and you don’t know where your friends are and you have to feverishly look around the room to find them, only to discover that you are temporarily blinded, and it seems like everyone in the room is peering at you because you are “unmated” to a table, and even though your buddies spot you and are waving their arms like they’re trying to land a supersonic jet, for some reason you can not get your eyeballs focused, so they are compelled to call your name across the restaurant, making everyone in the establishment look at you and notice your chubby body stumbling quickly to the table, while their curiosity is stimulated about what you might order in an attempt to keep from ballooning up even further. (Christopher had some issues.)

Fortunately, he saw them before they saw him. As he arrived at the table, Shelley reached over and shook his hand, which shocked him a bit since he was expecting a kiss, even if only on the cheek.

“Mr. Timmons,” she said sweetly, “I would like you to meet my boss, Mr. Mankins.”

Mr. Mankins reached out to shake his hand. “Just call me Ron.”

“Okay, Ron. You can call me Chris.” He sat down, and both Shelley and Mankins began perusing their menus, while continuing to talk.

“So, Chris, what do you do for a living?” asked Mankins.

Shelley answered for Chris. “Well, Ron, Chris is a writer.”

Mankins continued studying at his menu. “A writer, huh? Anything I’d know?”

Shelley once again fielded the question. “Well, he’s really just starting. You know, everything has a beginning long before it has an end.”

Christopher frowned. Would it would be necessary for him to participate in any way? He ventured in. “And in the holiday season…”

Shelley kicked him underneath the table. Christopher turned to her and she shook her head. Apparently he had said, or was about to say, something wrong.

“What about the holiday season?” said Mankins, eyes still glued to the menu.

Fortunately, the clumsy conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the waitress. She was bubbly and excited. “Hi, there. My name is Treysha.”

“Tricia?” asked Chris.

“No! Treysha. That’s T-R-E-Y-S-H-A. My parents wanted a boy. They were set on naming him Trey and saw no reason to abandon a good name.”

Neither Shelley nor Mr. Mankins seemed to be aware of the waitress’s presence.

“Well, let me start off by telling you about our specials today,” said Treysha. “We are offering shark. Yes, shark. So if you order it, it will be ‘man eating shark.'”

Treysha giggled, including a bit of a snort. Chris laughed politely, and then realized it was really quite funny and put a little more of his heart into it.

“Have any of you ever eaten shark?” Treysha inquired.

Chris looked over at Shelley and Ron to see if they were going to respond and determined that they were apparently mesmerized, so he answered. “Well, I haven’t. What’s it taste like?”

“Well, I haven’t personally tried it,” said Treysha. “But the cook says it is a very firm, white fish–just fatty enough that you might think it’s steak from the sea.”

Well-rehearsed and well presented.

“Well, I think I’ll have the shark, then,” said Christopher, handing back the menu.

“Great!” said Treysha. “And how about the two of you?”

Mr. Mankins responded without even looking up at the waitress. “I would like the all-American blue plate salad without the baby corn, with extra tomato and your very lightest dressing, please, on the side.”

Shelley watched her boss very carefully and then said to the waitress, “I’ll have the same except I want my baby corns.”

“Comin’ right up!” said Treysha, unconcerned with the lack of attention.

As soon as Treysha left, an uncomfortable silence settled in. There were a few sighs, sippings of water and then Shelley hit her knee against the table, interrupting the solitude with an, “Excuse me.”

Christopher decided to attempt some conversation. “I had thought there was fourth that’s joining us…”

Mankins looked down at his watch with some irritation. “Yes, Charrleen was due here ten minutes ago. She’s late.”

“Well, you know those creative types,” Shelley ventured.

“But there’s no excuse for being late,” said Mankins.

“Of course not,” responded Shelley.

“Well, I was four days late being born,” said Christopher. “Of course, my mother found that quite rude.”

His little joke was greeted with a nod by Mankins. The silence was graciously interrupted by the arrival of Charrleen, who breathlessly explained that she had been delayed by the arrival of an unexpected guest to her home. She shared that her Grand-mama Eloise had arrived from Louisiana for a visit, and that she had to make arrangements to care for her.

Christopher wanted to get more details about Charrleen’s relative, but Mankins leaped in first. “Well, it’s like they always say–the trouble with relatives is that they’re related to us.”

There was a very brief pause as everyone tried to discern his remark. Shelley noticed a smirk on his face, assumed it was meant to be funny, so she produced a chuckle. Charrleen maintained a perplexed expression, and Christopher tried to follow Shelley’s lead, and ended up with a half-choked giggle.

Undaunted, Mankins continued. “Well, there are three reasons for this meeting today. Let’s see if we can answer three questions before we enjoy our repast.”

Christopher smiled, thinking that ‘repast’ was a little pretentious for chomping shark and dressing on the side. Mankins forged on. “Number one: what have we learned so far? Number two, what’s next? And number three, what more can we do to promote the idea of ‘Great Jubilation?'”

He looked around at everybody at the table, as if revealing the secret of the Holy Grail. Shelley paused for a second and then jumped in. “Well, let me start,” she said. “So far we have recorded the song, ‘Great Jubilation’–thanks to Charrleen and the Jubilators…” Shelley put her hands together and feigned applause without sound.

“Thank you,” said Charrleen, placing her own hands together in some sort of pseudo-Buddhist pose.

“And what is next,” continued Shelley, “is to make another great promotional video out in Fenswick Park. We chose it because it’s very accessible and we weren’t charged anything for the use of the area.”

“Excellent!” said Mankins.

“As to what’s more,” continued Shelley, “I have my team working on that and have some good ideas brewing.”

“If you don’t mind me interrupting,” said Christopher.

Once again, Shelley kicked him under the table.

“Or maybe I’ll just wait,” he added, grabbing his glass and taking a huge gulp.

“No, no,” said Mankins. “Continue. I don’t know who you are, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have intelligence.”

“Thank you,” said Christopher tentatively.

Shelley interrupted. “Christopher is a really nice guy, but he has some old-fashioned feelings about the holiday season.”

Obviously, Shelley was frightened of what Christopher was about to say. Charrleen jumped in. “I have some questions, too.”

“Well, well, well,” said Mankins. “Seems like we’re going to have a lively discussion. Who wants to begin?”

Christopher nodded to Charrleen, to take her turn first. She smiled, took a deep breath, and began. “Well, let me first say that no one could be more grateful than I am for the opportunity you have given me to record this song and see it climb the charts.”

“I’m no musician,” said Mankins, “but it’s a damn beautiful song. Don’t you think so, Shelley?”

Shelley gulped. “Damn beautiful.”

“I’ve only heard it once,” Christopher inserted.

“Where you been, son?” Mankins demanded. “It’s played all the time.”

“Well, my taste in music…”

Mankins interrupted Christopher. “Well, anyway, Charrleen, you were saying…”

Charrleen looked round the table. “Grateful as I am, I have to admit that I think our mission is…may I say? Faulted.”

“Faulted?” frowned Mankins. “Interesting word, don’t you think, Shelley?”

“Fascinating,” Shelley mused obediently.

Christopher couldn’t help himself. “If by faulted, you mean dumb, then yes.”

Mankins ignored Christopher and turned to Charrleen. “What do you think is faulted?”

Suddenly Charrleen dropped her spoon in her lap, staring off across the room. “Oh, my God,” she said.

“What’s wrong?” asked Shelley.

“Are you all right?” inquired Christopher.

“How did she get here?” asked Charrleen in a mystical, breathy voice.

Everybody tried to look where Charrleen was staring, and discovered that her eyes had fallen upon an old woman about four tables away, sitting and facing them, with a cane in her left hand, sipping from a cup in her right hand.

“Who is that?” said Christopher. “Do you know her?”

“It is my Grand-mama Eloise,” said Charrleen, shocked. “I left her at home. I have no idea how she got here.”

“She seems nice,” said Christopher, trying to lighten the mood.

“Would you like to invite her over to our table?” asked Shelley.

“No!” said Charrleen forcefully. “I mean…no, that’s not necessary…”

“Perhaps this is a bad time for this meeting since you have relatives in town,” suggested Mankins.

Charrleen stood to her feet. “I’m sorry. I’m going to have to…I’m going to have to do something.”

She scurried away from the table and over to her Grand-mama, took her by the arm, and the two of them left the restaurant as quickly as possible, accounting for the age difference.

“Well, that was interesting,” said Christopher.

“Shelley, do you know anything about Charrleen’s problems?” asked Mankins.

“Not a thing, Mr. Mankins. I thought she was really pleased with the coverage we were giving her.”

“Well, I hope we don’t have a problem,” said Mankins.

Christopher could not wait any longer. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it. She’s probably just a little upset that you are single-handedly trying to destroy Christmas.”

Shelley attempted to kick him once again, but this time Christopher had moved his legs. Mankins furrowed his brow. “And why do you think we’re trying to destroy Christmas? We’re just trying to liven it up, freshen it, make it more available to all the masses. Update it!”

“Did you ever stop to ask yourself if any of that was necessary?” challenged Christopher. “And before you interrupt me, let me explain. There’s an old saying in the military–‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Christmas ain’t broke. There’s no need to fix it. Oh, sure, some people get a little nervous with the religious overtones, or think it’s over the top, but generally speaking, it is not only an emotional and spiritual success, but a huge financial boost that fills the coffers of our large corporations and gives them the profit margin to pay salaries for public relations firms like you, who deem themselves progressive by trying to snuff it.”

Mankins looked over at Shelley. “Well, you certainly have an interesting young man you’ve hooked up with.”

“Don’t blame her,” said Christopher. “She’s kicked me under the table four times, trying to keep me quiet. And by the way, how I earn my money for most of the year is by playing Santa Claus. That’s what she didn’t want me to tell you. So since I’ve become cumbersome to this conversation, I will excuse myself and let the two of you continue this discussion without my interference.”

Christopher nodded his head to Shelley and then to Mr. Mankins. “Shelley, Ron. Thank you for an intriguing time.”

Christopher rose from his chair and walked out of the restaurant, fueled with righteous indignation.

Mankins looked at Shelley and Shelley back at Mankins.

Just then Treysha arrived with the tray of food.

“Now,” she said. “Who was the brave ‘man eating shark?'”